Chapter One - The Airdocks of San Francisco

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The gray, smoggy sky hanging like dirty cloth above the streets of San Francisco was about the color of Adalé Whitmore's mood. She trudged beneath it, carpetbag in one hand and straw bonnet in the other. The wrinkled newspaper she had tucked into her skirt pocket had gained another pencil mark across the adverts list as Adalé had tried, and been denied, another job.

"It's not your fault," the woman at the desk had said to her. "Our company simply isn't interested in hiring, uh, farm girls."

"But I'd be a wonderful secretary," Adalé had argued. "I know how to use an index typewriter, I'm a quick reader, and I'd try my very best to be on time."

"Sorry," the woman had said, offering her a bowl full of candy drops. "Why don't you have a sweet?"

Adalé had stormed out, but not before taking one of the raspberry candies and popping it in her mouth. The candy was now nearly gone, as were her hopes for finding a job. Tired, discouraged, and now candy-less, Adalé took a seat on one of the benches facing the busy street.

She put her hands in her lap and watched the road-steamers and velocipedes make their way up and down the uneven cobblestone streets. They sped by faster than horses, filling the air with the sound of grinding gears and the smell of smoke and steam. Around them swarmed people from all places: women in high buns and silk robes, stony-faced men in broad hats with eagle feathers tucked into the bands, ladies in brightly patterned calicos, gents in toppers and spats. They paid no mind to the young woman watching from the bench at the side of the road.

When Adalé had first arrived here, the city had seemed like a dream, but after three days of searching and no job, the wheels whizzing by her started to feel like they were crushing her hopes one by one.

She opened her worn newspaper again. Her eyes skimmed past the advertisements printed in Spanish, English, Japanese, and Shahapwailutan, past the many crossed-off jobs she had tried for and lost. She brushed her bangs away from her face and resigned herself to staring at traffic again.

Help Wanted, a sign read.

Adalé sat straight up and squinted her eyes. Yes, Help Wanted, clear as day, was painted on a sign tucked under the arm of a woman in trousers currently climbing into a horse-drawn hansom cab. The woman climbed inside, set the sign across her thighs, and sighed.

Adalé stood from the bench and hurried over towards the woman and the job she had to offer, but before she had taken more than a few steps, the cab started off.

"No, wait!" Adalé cried, but her shout was quiet compared to the roar of the motorized vehicles puffing their way down the street. She watched helplessly as the carriage sped away... but she wasn't about to give up.

"Excuse me!" she shouted, waving a hand. "I need a ride!"

One of the road-steamers stopped. "Where to, miss?"

"Follow that hansom with the gray horse," she said, pointing.

The cabby eyed her ragged carpetbag, too-short skirt, and unpinned hair suspiciously. "You okay to pay for it, miss?"

She dug into her carpetbag and pulled out her last silver dollar. "Do you take United States money?"

He grinned. "We take any money in San Francisco-- dollars, pesos, yen, pounds, gold dust-- we'll take it all."

"Just take me to follow that cab, please," she said, pressing the dollar into his hand.

The man inspected the dollar. "You'll want change?"

"Of course! Now please, the cab!"

The driver shrugged before turning and pulling a long lever. The vehicle's engine snorted out a burst of steam into the air, then jerked forward. Adalé stifled a yelp and grabbed for one of the handles screwed into the cab's wall, presumably for just such a purpose. It was a bumpy ride, but at least it was a quick one. Adalé leaned forward. Trailing out the open back of the horse-drawn cab was the woman's long, golden braid. She watched it eagerly. This woman may be a complete stranger, and Adalé may not even know what the help she wanted would be doing, but it was her best lead in three days and she couldn't afford to pass it up.

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